Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Saying goodbye to our fur-baby

One of my favorite pictures of our sweetie.

So, we've had a really tough couple of weeks.  We lost our cat, Pilgrim, one week ago, and it has been absolutely devastating to us.  I'm hoping that writing about the entire sad experience will help me process it, since I can't seem to get past it (though it has only been a week, so I'm not surprised that I'm constantly bursting into tears.)

Her official name was from a Widespread Panic song called "Pilgrims": "Little black kitty crossed our path, wearing little fog feet..."

Pilgrim started acting a bit strangely a little more than 2 weeks ago, and then exactly 2 weeks ago, she woke us in the night meowing in a very pitiful way while she was trying to use the litter box.  She'd not been as interested in eating as usual, so we called our wonderful veterinarian's office on that Wednesday, and we got a Friday morning appointment to bring her in.  Dr. Golden examined her and took a blood sample, but she was a little dehydrated and he couldn't get a urine sample, so I took her home to watch her and wait for her to use her re-jiggered litter box so I could grab the sample. 

When we got home, I'd chided myself that we had over-reacted, since she was happily eating her tuna treat, sitting on my lap, and seemed back to her old self.  Late that afternoon, I got a frantic call from my husband asking me if I could get her in the crate by myself and meet him at the vet because she was in kidney failure.  My grandfather's kidneys failed when he was dying, so just those words had a lot of baggage for me, and I could barely call Bryan's mom to tell her the news through my tears.

Dr. Golden was hopeful that it could just be an infection that had knocked out her kidneys, and if we could support her kidney function, perhaps she would be OK when the infection was cured.  She hadn't given me a urine sample, so he collected that and gave her subcutaneous fluids (and taught us how to do it), as well as antibiotics, a stomach calming medication, new food, an appetite stimulant, and his cell phone number, and we took her home.

Pilgrim was an angel, tolerating the twice/day fluid treatments, medications, etc., and she'd actually eaten pretty well on Friday and Saturday, but by Sunday she lost interest in her new food, and we spent pretty much all of our long Labor Day weekend holding and petting her and trying not to freak out completely.  She wasn't interested in playing, but she was happy to be pet and sit on our laps or in her favorite spot on our bed and she was no longer waking us with pitiful cries over the weekend, so we were hopeful that we were getting her better.  She woke me up very early on Tuesday morning just to be pet and loved on, and for once, I didn't mind the pre-dawn snuggle...I am grateful we had that time now.

On Tuesday afternoon, we were heading to our vet's office to get more fluid treatment and needles, but she still wasn't eating so he asked us to bring her in to check her kidney function.  We still had a few days to wait on the results of the culture that was being grown from her urine, so there wasn't much more to do, though Dr. Golden called the lab and found out that, while inconclusive, it appeared to be a gram-negative organism, so we still had some hope since the antibiotic she had been on was better for a gram-positive organism.

Well, when her kidney function results came back, they were even worse, despite giving her an entire iv bag full of fluid over 4 days, so he had us take her to the emergency vet hospital in Annapolis so she could have iv fluids overnight, as well as starting her on a new antibiotic.  We were a wreck, of course, but got her over there and spoke to the doctor there, and she seemed hopeful that Pilgrim could make it through this infection.  We went to dinner with my mother-in-law, Margery, who lives in Annapolis and takes care of Pilgrim for us when we are out of town (and we did pretty well...only started crying once during dinner).  We were supposed to go home, but I wanted to go back to the hospital for the evening visitor hours, and the vet there came out and told us that they'd done an x-ray while we were at dinner and had seen some masses that concerned them and that one of her kidneys was very enlarged, which is the opposite of what they expected.  I thought the worst, but she still seemed very hopeful, which, in retrospect, I wish she hadn't shared, as that really got my hopes up.  We got home, and it felt so weird to be in the house.  It was Pilgrim's first night away from home since I'd met her two and a half years ago, and I could barely sleep without my baby pressing up against me (which is what she did every night).

A few weeks ago, when I'd just put my freshly laundered blanket on the bed, I found someone breaking it in for me.

On Wednesday afternoon, they sedated her to do an ultrasound and take a biopsy (and to be able to examine her, since she was apparently not very cooperative with the strangers at the clinic...go figure that she'd finally had enough of being poked and prodded).  They found that she had pretty extensive lymphoma in her kidneys, lesions in her intestines, and after talking to Dr. Golden, we determined that chemotherapy was not a kindness, since it was not likely to be successful and would not be pleasant for her.  We went to pick her up, hoping that we'd have at least a few more days with her, but in the meantime, she'd also ended up with fluid in her lungs and was having difficulty breathing.  After seeing how bad it was when we got to the hospital, we didn't want to have her in distress overnight, so we talked to Dr. Golden and he was going to come by at 8:30 or 9 p.m. so that we could have a few more hours with her.  We'd hoped that her difficulty breathing would ease up when we got her home to her familiar surroundings, and she seemed alright on the car ride home in Bryan's arms.  But, when we got her inside, she was having difficulty walking.  She had no interest in her favorite treats (that we had just ordered a dozen bags of), and it was clear that she was uncomfortable.

I took this picture a month or so ago...I love how Bryan would get down on the floor for "pettings".
Those couple of hours were probably the saddest hours of my whole life.  We tried to pet her, to let her be on the bed where she was normally comfortable (but she didn't seem to want to be there), and we tried to let her lay by the back door to look out the window, which is something she always liked, but she was just clearly not herself, and we finally called Dr. Golden and asked if he could come earlier.  We didn't want her to suffer just so we could have longer to say goodbye.

Dr. Golden is a saint.  I can't say enough about how grateful we are to him.  He spent so much time with her and us after hours (until after 7 on Friday night), calling us on Saturday morning to check in, talking to us on Labor Day when we were concerned about her appetite, and then talking to us extensively on Tuesday and Wednesday.  On Wednesday night, he came to our house, moving very slowly and quietly so Pilgrim wouldn't be scared.  He was so gentle with her and with us.  When we were as ready as we could be, he gave her a shot through her IV to sedate her, and then he gave her the second shot that was the euthanasia, explaining everything in advance and then again as he was doing it.  Bryan held her so that she could see both of us as she passed, and we petted her and hoped that we had made her as comfortable as possible.  It was surprisingly peaceful, and then Bryan insisted that I leave the room for whatever had to happen next (listening to make sure that there was no heartbeat and preparing to take her away for cremation).  Of course, as soon as Dr. Golden left with her, we both totally lost it.

Bryan has had Pilgrim in his life for more than 14 years.  In fact, the only person with whom he has shared a roof longer is his Mom.  Bryan's ex-wife had found Pilgrim and Mojo as kittens at a junkyard in Alabama.  They were probably too young to be separated from their mothers, who were nowhere to be found, and Bryan had to bottle feed her, teach her how to use a litter box, everything.  He had a baby album with her kitten pictures in it.  And when his ex-wife left him, Pilgrim kept him going and gave him a reason to get up every day.  She took care of him as much as he took care of her.  She was his baby girl, and he would have walked through fire for her.

I'm allergic to cats, and when I first met Pilgrim, I wasn't so sure about her.  But after our first few visits, I could see what Bryan saw in her, and as our relationship grew, I realized I'd fallen in love not just with Bryan, but with Pilgrim, too.  I never thought I could get so attached to a cat, but I've realized that Pilgrim wasn't "a cat" - she was our baby, and I miss her so very much that it hurts.  We will probably get another cat in a few years (once we've had a baby and the child is old enough not to hurt a kitten), but I don't think any future cat could ever live up to Pilgrim's sweetness.

She really liked to "help" me with my work on days I teleworked.

"Mom can't sew today...I like her pillow."

"Really Mom...I'm more important than sewing!"

Meeting her grandma Sue.  Pilgrim was usually not one to jump in the lap of a "stranger", but I guess she knew pretty fast that my mom was her friend, too.

How can anyone resist that face?

"This laundry basket may be broken, but I'd like to jump in and out of it, please!"

Sunbeam and texture...perfect napping opportunity.

Nowhere else I'd rather be than in my parents' lap.

"Mooommmm...wake up!  It's play-time!"

"You can bind this while I hold it down for you."

"Quilting is such hard work - time for a nap."

Our snuggle-bug...may she rest in peace.


  1. I'm SO sorry for your loss - I was on the verge of tears just reading your post and I don't even have a cat. I'm so glad you had such a wonderful vet though. I can't imagine how much worse it would have been for you guys if he hadn't helped so much. Hope you guys find peace with it in the coming weeks.

  2. Elle, how lucky you and Bryan were to have sweet Pilgrim in your life. She is a beautiful baby. From all your pictures I can see that Pilgrim was a pretty lucky kitty as well. Take comfort in knowing that you gave her a great life and all the love a kitty could ask for.

  3. I hope you and your husband continue to heal. It's so hard to lose your kitty. It was wonderful to see you this weekend, and I hope to be hearing soon of additions to your family, not losses.


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